A Longtime Hunter’s Gained Perspective from Slaughtering a Lamb

Bruce Franklin McGlenn
October 13, 2016

My hands wanted to tremble a bit but I was able to steady them with concentration and experience in the field as I sighted on a small patch of wool between two ears. My heart sped up as if readying myself for a shot at a wild ungulate off in the distance, except the distance in this case would be measured in inches rather than yards. A well-placed .38 bullet was the intention in this up-close and personal scenario and proved to be more challenging than anticipated (both physically and emotionally) with the lamb’s quick head movements and lack of distance, or separation.

Two weeks earlier we had received as a gift a young ram about a year old; the idea being to slaughter and butcher it for an educational course on field dressing and processing game animals. As luck would have it, both for us and the lamb, we were able to use a white-tailed deer for the demonstration. However, we then had a lamb with winter approaching and no practical way of keeping it alive and healthy for the duration. It was bred for meat and had been destined for such with the previous owner before he had to move away and leave it for us, so we figured we would carry out the originally intended process. We didn’t expect we would have a pet on our hands…

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When he arrived, he had a makeshift collar and a ten-foot lead. Extremely skittish, he practically had to be drug across the field to his temporary home in an old corral with undisturbed grass and a crabapple tree. He wanted nothing to do with any humans. Within a few days, however, he was letting us get a little closer but still kept his distance. A few more days he was eating out of our hands. Within a week he was following us around and grazing freely in the pasture. He even wagged his tail when scratched behind the ears in just the right spot. This lamb was acting more like a dog, although his main motivation did seem like it was food.

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You can see the dilemma we were facing. As we prepared ourselves mentally to turn our new friend into life-sustaining nourishment for our bodies it became evident that there was much more at stake. Part of our rationale was that if we gave him away, his fate would likely be the same, only in unfamiliar and possibly unfriendly surroundings. We came to love this creature for his character and curiosity and figured he had as good a chance here to live out the rest of his life in a caring environment, even if it was only a few days. But how could we possibly bring ourselves to slaughter an animal we had come to care so much for? Wouldn’t it be easier to let someone else do it? The farmer down the road? Or the slaughter house in town? Or the commercial meat factory half way across the country..?

I realized that had I not treated this animal so good and taken the time to get to know it, it would have been easier to turn into lamb chops. I wondered if the same rationale holds true in other aspects of life and if this is why modern society sometimes seems to treat animals (and people) more like numbers than living beings… This was a poignant reminder that in today’s fast-paced world we are making our lives easier at the expense of the animals we eat.

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I concluded that despite having to deal with greater sadness and loss due to an emotional investment, everyone involved would likely have a richer life experience in the end. Having respected this lamb and taking responsibility for its life and now death, I knew there would be no taking for granted or running to the store to get more meat if we let this go bad or didn’t use it efficiently. I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that. This is true of the animals I hunt as well. Also, knowing the true and full cost of eating this protein, I felt a further disconnection from and dis-ease with the commercial meat system. The thought of eating a steak at a restaurant seemed so impersonal and lacking of connection to the food and medicine I choose to put in my body.

So when the time came to pull the trigger it was with some sadness and hesitation, as it is with any wild animal I choose to hunt; and also with a deep respect for the life that would sustain me and an appreciation knowing it was handled with empathy and honor. Our culture has failed at teaching us how interconnected we are with the circle of life. My father taught me, and I am reminded every time I encounter a life or death choice, every time my adrenaline and emotions come swirling up from my gut and dance around in my chest, every time I put my hand on the coarse warm hair of a majestic elk or a mountaineering deer and feel a non-duality, a rush of connectedness sweep into me from the hidden realms of the wilderness, reminding me who I am: wild and free.

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According to NPR1 the average person in our country consumes or demands 270 pounds of meat (beef, poultry, pork, fish) per year. And according to NRDC2 22% (nearly a quarter) of that meat is wasted – goes in the trash. Now 22% of 270 is about 60 pounds of wasted meat per person per year. The yield on an average lamb that weighs 100-120 pounds live is about 25-30 pounds of edible meat (once you remove the hide, head, innards, and bones). So in essence, the average consumer wastes the equivalent of two lambs per year. That’s hard to stomach… And we aren’t even getting into the wasted resources and pollution associated with this process.

I understand the impracticality of it, but if every meat eater had the opportunity to raise, care for, slaughter, and butcher – or hunt in the wild their own meat I wonder how these statistics might change. Would we eat less meat? Would we be a healthier, more mindful society? Could it lead to more love and empathy towards others? Would the meat we eat taste better? Be more nourishing to our bodies and souls? If we actually knew the animal we would eventually eat, wouldn’t we then finally know who we are..?

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References:

  1. A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters
  2. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf
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